Mental Health

Online imagery can increase young women’s desire for cosmetic surgery

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Viewing images of facial cosmetic enhancements increases the desire for cosmetic surgery among young women, especially for those who spend more time on social media, according to new research published in Current Psychology. The study provides new insight into how online images can impact behaviors and body image.

“At the time of researching, influencers were becoming more of a fixture on social media, particularly Instagram; the platform was also gaining more traction as the primary media source for fashion, beauty & lifestyle news among young people,” said study author Candice Walker, a masters student at University of the Arts London.

“Similarly, I had read reports about increases in cosmetic procedures among young people, and that the procedures were being shown and discussed online. As a psychology student, I was interested to see why this was, and what the potential effects might be.”

In the study, 118 women aged 18–29 years were randomly assigned to viewed either 15 images of women who had undergone facial cosmetic enhancements or 15 images of travel destinations. The types of cosmetic enhancements included rhinoplasty, soft tissue fillers, Botox, laser skin resurfacing and microdermabrasion, and the photos were of the style typically seen on Instagram.

The participants were led to believe the study was interested in examining the ability to recall the details of images.

The researchers found that participants who viewed images of cosmetically-enhanced women subsequently expressed a greater desire to have cosmetic surgery themselves compared to participants who saw images of travel.

“Women who are frequent social media users and who are less satisfied with their appearance are particularly likely to consider cosmetic surgery in the future,” explained co-author Eva Krumhuber, an associate professor at University College London.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that social media use was a stronger predictor of a participants’ desire for cosmetic surgery than their body dissatisfaction.

“I would like for people to take away the importance of being mindful of the media they consume, to think about how they interact with it and how it may be affecting their beliefs about themselves. For those who are interested in getting a cosmetic procedure, to consider their motivations for it, and what they are basing their decision on,” Walker told PsyPost.

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“Most of the volunteers were university students or young professionals. Future research is needed to test whether the effects replicate with younger/older samples, and those from different occupational groups. Also, it would be interesting to assess whether trait and state self-esteem predict body dissatisfaction and the desire for cosmetic surgery,” Krumhuber explained.

“As the study only sampled young women, I think it would be interesting to examine the relationship between social media, body image and cosmetic surgery among men,” Walker added.

“The ever-changing nature of social media means that more up-to-date research is needed. So, if there is anyone reading this who is thinking of conducting a similar study, I would strongly encourage them to! Especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds, where beauty standards and the norms around cosmetic surgery may differ.”

The study, “Effects of social media use on desire for cosmetic surgery among young women“, was authored by Candice E. Walker, Eva G. Krumhuber, Steven Dayan, and Adrian Furnham.

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